Oya Simpson

“When will you be mowing the field behind my house?,” and “are you going to clean up the downed tree in the woods?” are questions Iris Gestram sometimes hears from homeowners at Willowsford, a 4,000-acre community in Ashburn, Va. As executive director of the Willowsford Conservancy, she oversees the community's 2,000 acres of open space.

Caring for so much land presents its own unique challenge and is an educational process for the residents. “People move to Willowsford because they love the community and they love looking out on fields, meadows and woodlands,” explains Gestram. “And they don’t always realize that those are not stagnant entities. Much of the Conservancy’s time is spent on tree care, trail maintenance, wildlife management, selective mowing of grasslands, and invasive plant removal.”

The neighborhood, located about 40 minutes from Washington, D.C., offers homes from a range of builders including Beazer Homes, Ryan Homes, Camberley Homes, Integrity Homes, Van Metre Homes, and Arcadia Companies.

What may appear to be an overgrown field to some residents, is a wildlife habitat for rabbits, fox, bats, butterflies, wild turkey, many songbirds, and a wide array of amphibians and reptiles. Willowsford Conservancy works closely with wildlife, forest and grassland experts to ensure that habitats not only support what is already living within them but to also encourage some of the area’s native species that have been lost over the years, Gestram says.

“Part of the Conservancy’s work is to activate our open space for education and recreation,” said Gestram. “We want to not only provide beautiful vistas for residents to look out on, we also provide engaging programs and spaces for residents to get outdoors, relax and explore nature.”

For instance, Willowsford has a 300-acre working farm along with a farm garden and a Farm Stand market. The Willowsford culinary director provides recipes for farm products as well as cooking classes in the community’s indoor and outdoor demonstration kitchens. Over 30 miles of Conservancy nature trails provide residents with opportunities for running, hiking and mountain biking. And in addition to the popular family campground, a group campground will be added this fall. A new recreational archery range just opened that includes 10 archery lanes with targets at varying distances and areas for archery instruction.

Throughout the open spaces at Willowsford, there are various focal points or places to take in the surroundings. These include pavilions, a recently built tree house, scenic ponds and streams. The Conservancy also has an active education schedule with nature walks, lectures, landscape tips, watershed cleanups, and workshops such as the Monarch butterfly and milkweed workshop. There are also Conservancy camps for neighborhood children as well as community bonfires, trail runs and mountain bike races.

“We want to help residents appreciate and take advantage of Willowsford’s unique natural and recreational resources, adds Gestram. “And we hope to provide peace of mind for homeowners that the open space throughout the community is sustainably managed and remains in perpetuity.”